Canada's Arctic infrastructure is limited. So we built our own.



ARF's mobile science labs and art studios are an innovative solution to the Arctic’s current dearth of infrastructure. These labs are also a powerful example of how ARF’s flexible, low-cost approach can have a huge impact above the Arctic Circle. 

Built out of sea containers, the labs are heated, insulated and equipped with toilets, water purifiers and satellite communication links. The labs are also capable of plugging into existing power networks or running completely off the grid, drawing electricity through environmentally friendly solar panels or wind turbines.

Best of all, they can be moved wherever they’re needed — from remote Arctic research sites to bustling tourist areas. 

In the last five years, ARF has become a catalyst for research and economic development in the North by working together with federal, territorial, local, academic and private partners to enable knowledge development for partnerships and growth in the region. An important component of ARF's role has been the strategic investments of research infrastructure, such as a 64-ft. vessel and storage/lab trailers in the community of Cambridge Bay. These assets are operated on behalf of research teams that require these forms of support at a cost-recovery or no-cost basis. By enabling strategic planning and investments in a planned approach among all its partners, the region has seen immense benefits and growing interest that will continue through these partnerships and strategic investments, such as the Strategic Investments in Northern Economic Development (SINED).


The Kitikmeot Region (Cambridge Bay, Gjoa Haven, Taloyoak, Kugluktuk and Kugaaruk) encompasses the western-most region of Nunavut, including Canada’s lower Northwest Passage. This region has a rich history of interaction tied to its environmental services, as evidenced though Inuit oral tradition and modern legacy. Economic development in this region is required and important for improving the well-being of local residents; however, it must be balanced and approached with care and in a sustainable manner informed by a strong base of shared knowledge. 

In the past five years, research teams working together with ARF have made key breakthroughs. The most publicly known is the discovery of  HMS Erebus in summer 2014. ARF’s research vessel, R/V Martin Bergmann, covered nearly 80 percent of the search region examined by the project partners and supported logistics relating to the project through its presence in Cambridge Bay. As a strategic partner, ARF's enthusiasm and leveraging was a catalyst to key investments made by various partners, which enabled the individual success of all groups beyond the discovery of the shipwreck (such as the CHS charting a strategic shipping corridor through Alexandra Strait, EC shoreline classification surveys and navy training in Arctic waters). The University of Victoria successfully implemented an Ocean Networks Canada (ONC) underwater research node at Cambridge Bay. ARF’s investment of dock power, diving services, established relationships with Cambridge Bay construction firms and communications infrastructure enabled the ONC's successful deployment and operation of the technology and learning hub. New ocean-based research projects, such as the Ocean Tracking Network/Fisheries and Oceans Canada char-tagging and tracking program in Wellington Bay (Cambridge Bay’s key commercial fisheries site), were made more holistic and ecosystem-based by working with the University of Manitoba Centre for Earth Observation Science aboard the Bergmann. Together, the research groups are working to understand the potential broad oceanographic influence on char abundance in the bay. ARF is working together with the HTO of Gjoa Haven, given its recent interest in investigating marine and coastal fisheries potential in the waters of the Kitikmeot Region. As a former fishing trawler, the Bergmann is a key platform for research needed to build the knowledge base required for potential fisheries in this largely uncharted region. ARF is also working together with local Cambridge Bay artists to retrieve local soapstone from Bathurst Inlet, allowing artists to reconnect with the process of stone acquisition and to work with local materials, thereby retaining the cultural importance and authenticity of the artwork they create.

ARF’s northern operations and expenditures are strongly embedded within the community of Cambridge Bay because the vessel overwinters in the North. The ship refit, construction, electrical, vessel positioning and support, shipping, food services, lodging and many components of the annual budget are an investment directly into the town and economy of Cambridge Bay. ARF hires locally, including  local youth and at-risk youth through local programs.

Among ARF’s current research partners are Parks Canada and their partners on the search for the Franklin vessels; the KIA and GN geologists in retrieving soapstone for local carvers; marine research teams at the University of Manitoba, the University of British Columbia, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Canadian Rangers and others involved in local marine environmental studies; Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Ocean Tracking Network in char-tagging and tracking studies; and Queen’s University and the Gjoa Haven HTO on marine fisheries research in the Queen Maud Gulf. This list continues to grow annually, and projects vary depending on interest.

The need for research infrastructure in the Arctic was analyzed in 2008: a full scoping exercise took place as part of efforts toward establishing the Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS). To ensure ARF and project efforts are needed, and to ensure the work is integrated into federal infrastructure efforts relating to Arctic research, ARF is working in full consultation with CHARS. 




Mobile Marine-Archaeological-Geological Network
Knowledge Development for Enabling Economic Sustainability in Arctic Communities

M-MAG-N has minimal contact with the ground because it is raised on four corner blocks.


Standard ISO 20’ x 8’ x 8’


  • exterior corrugated steel,
  • front standard steel door and end loading dual barn doors with ramp,
  • large front clearstory windows with insulated louvres,
  • all sides fully insulated with 5” spray rigid insulation, double on bottom,
  • 2x4 interior structure with plywood sheeting, and
  • storage for ATV and diesel generator.


  • two stainless steel fold-down counters, about 8' long,
  • stainless steel sink,
  • portable water purification system, using optional holding tank or outdoor water,
  • six 120V circuits,
  • LED lighting and
  • HVAC (5 kW).



  • 100-amp electrical panel with 120V and 220V AC power,
  • 18 gel-matt batteries with 1260Ah capacity,
  • two wind-powered/battery-charged inverters,
  • two solar-powered/battery-charged inverters,
  • two AC inverters,
  • ComBox for satellite uplink with system,
  • diesel generator command module,
  • capable of producing 10 kW continuously,
  • composting toilet.


  • 15 solar panels producing 10 kW and
  • extruded aluminum frame mounting system, designed to break down easily for transport.


  • two wind turbines producing 1.1 kW and
  • 20' masts, hinged at connecting points to allow easy maintenance of turbines.


  • 20 kW diesel backup generator, extreme weather enclosure, heated fuel lines and tank, mounted on wheels for easy transport.


Research innovation


The portable mini-labs will allow economic investment, research innovation and joint learning to remain in and be conducted directly in the North, rather than being done in the South. A mini-lab for fisheries physiology studies is required to build knowledge for stock assessments that will be done in these labs in the North. Fisheries experts, together with local fishers and knowledge holders, will conduct work on site in areas of interest and known abundance of species. Geological work requires heavy and specialized analytical equipment; the best way to transport and use this equipment at field sites is within a portable mini-lab. All mini-labs will be equipped with green-powered technology, and experts from ARF will facilitate knowledge transfer of technology to local people. The portability of the mini-labs and the specialized equipment within them are key to this program, enabling direct research in situ where work needs to take place, but also usable in towns, near schools and sites of tourist interest. The mini-labs are movable by machinery in winter and by commercial barge, vessel or military support (JTFN/navy). Each science lab is a standardized insulated trailer/seacan with standard operating equipment relating to power/lighting and configuration, so that it can plug into existing power or work off-grid in areas where power is not available. 

Training opportunities and testing

The testing of the M-MAG-N mini-lab for marine work at IOS will also provide training opportunities for potential users (for example, HTO members of the Arctic, including Gjoa Haven, Cambridge Bay and others, Canadian Rangers and students looking for work in fisheries science).  


“Mobile labs give you a huge bang for buck, covering areas where icebreakers can't go.”

Eddy Carmack |  Senior Research Scientist Emeritus, Fisheries and Oceans CAnada